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After the end of World War II in 1945, the United
States and the Soviet Union, two of the world’s superpowers, were at odds. This
tension was the start of the Cold War. It marked the state of ideological,
political, and economic hostility between the two countries through threats,
espionage, and propaganda. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the
end of this war. Although most historians believe that the Cold War has
officially ended, closer examination reveals that its underlying ideology and conflicts
are still prevalent in today’s geopolitical landscape.      

Winston Churchill remarked in 1946 that
an “iron curtain has descended across
the continent.” This was in reference to the Berlin Wall which became the
real iron curtain separating Eastern Europe from Western Europe, the symbol of
the bipolar system in the Cold War era. The bipolarity between the superpowers,
USA and USSR stemmed from the differences in their ideologies. Communism was the ideology followed by the Soviet Union
which believed in public ownership and communal control by state. They were
totalitarian, meaning all the power was with the rulers. The United States was
capitalistic, an ideology based on private ownership of land and businesses and
competitive markets. They were also a democracy, which meant the citizens
elected their representatives to the government. This fundamental
disagreement over government power and social structure divided these nations
and sparked an intense battle for world supremacy. A climate of fear and suspicion
reigned as result of conflicts of ideologies and
interest. The Soviets felt threatened by the west and had concerns about United
States spearheading ‘imperialist expansion’ while Americans were concerned
about Communist expansion.

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There were several contracts, treaties and
councils established to support containment of communism versus spread of
capitalism. USA signed the Marshall Plan in 1948, granting 5 billion in aid to
16 European nations to support their economic recovery from World War II. Soviet
Union saw the conditions imposed in the plan as an anti-communist move by the
USA and refused to accept aid from the Marshall Plan, or allow any of their
satellite states to take it. The Soviet Union instead created the Molotov Plan
and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance in response to the Marshall Plan
to give financial aid for the economic development of all the eastern European
communist states that felt the threat of capitalism. The North Atlantic Treaty
Organization was formed in 1949, by United States and 11 other Western nations
to protect against the possible invasion of Western Europe by the Soviet Union
and the prospect of Communist expansion. The NATO Preamble shows that they are
committed to the principles of democracy and individual liberty to protect the
freedom and stability of the people of the North Atlantic. In 1955, the Soviet
Union reacted by creating the Warsaw Pact with its affiliated Communist nations
in Eastern Europe.

The “space race” was a Cold War competition for
dominance in spaceflight capability between the superpowers. Soviets launched
the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, in October 1957. In response
to the perceived Soviet dominance in Space technology, the United States
enacted the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 to fund aeronautical and
space research activities and successfully launched
their first satellite four months later called the Explorer I. The competition to
create the best technology fueled their “arms race” and enabled the
buildup of nuclear arms and the introduction of intercontinental ballistic
missiles. Both the Soviets and the US sought to prove the superiority of their
technology and their military firepower as an extension to their superior
political-economic system. This conflict spanned from subtle espionage with
nuclear submarines traversing noiselessly through the depths of the oceans to
violent combat in the form of building the Berlin Wall, proxy wars in Korea,
Vietnam, and Afghanistan to quote a few examples. Korean
and Vietnam wars were proxy wars that served to illustrate a conventional
confrontation between the USA & USSR. In the Korean
War (1950 to 1953), United States backed the South Korean government (with a
pro-American doctrine) against North Korea (Soviet backed People’s Republic)
and demonstrated its continued commitment to containment, the idea that the US
would ultimately defeat communism by containing its spread. Similarly, the U.S. government got involved in the Vietnamese
war (1955-1975) to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam by the North
Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong who were fighting to reunify Vietnam
with the support of the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union.

This was part of the domino theory of a wider containment policy, that has an
aim of stopping the spread of communism in Asia. In the Soviet Afghanistan War
(1979-1989), the United States supported the Mujahedeen, the Afghan guerrillas
to overthrow the Soviet Union backed, communist government of Afghanistan. USA
perceived the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan as the greatest
threat to peace since World War II and an attempt to expand Communist
influence. Therefore, the US policy of supporting anti-Communist insurgents on
grounds of justice, necessity and democratic tradition.

The Cold War appears to have ended as a result of
internal factors such as Gorbachev’s reforms, the weak economy of the USSR, the
Satellite States breaking away from the USSR, and the Strategic Arms Limitation
Talks. However, since the ideologies of USA and Russia remain unaltered, the
fears and struggles from this conflict continues to propel the cold war in the
current era to prove their superior political-economic system.

Bilateral proxy contests for power and influence
have continued, although in different forms. Russia’s sudden annexation of
Crimea in early 2014 is deeply rooted in the fight between Russia and the West.

Crimean operation by Russia is perceived as a response to the threat of NATO’s
further expansion along Russia’s western border manifested by the extension of
NATO membership in central and Eastern Europe since 1991. It was feared by
Russia that Ukraine’s new government might join NATO. Therefore it is believed
that Russia pressured the Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych to suspend a
landmark political and trade deal with the European Union to avoid closer ties
with the EU. Western support for the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russia leader,
Viktor Yanukovych prompted Russia to annex the Crimean peninsula and provide support
for pro-Russia rebels in battles in Eastern Ukraine. As a punishment, US,
Canada and EU extended sanctions against Russia. Russian Foreign Ministry in
turn published a reciprocal sanctions list of US citizens thus triggering the
resurgence of chronic cold war like conflict. Syria too has been a critical
point of contention between Russia and the West. Syria under President Assad is
seen by the Kremlin as a key pillar of its strategic influence in the Middle
East. The US has accused President Assad of widespread atrocities with
chemical weapons and lends support to Syria’s main opposition alliance, the
National Coalition, and provides limited military assistance to
“moderate” rebels against Assad. Russia on the other side has been
the most important international supporter for Assad’s regime in Syria and the
sole reason for the survival of the regime. It has blocked resolutions critical
of President Assad at the UN Security Council and has continued to supply
weapons to the Syrian military despite international criticism. In supporting
Assad, Russia acts in deliberate and resolute opposition to the US. In Iran,
similarly, the ideological framework of the Islamic Republic and the key pillar
of Russian foreign policy of opposition to the United States contribute as the
main incentive for the two to pursue collaboration. Moscow and Tehran are
forging close political and economic relations focused on improving transport
links, trade, and energy cooperation. Russia has backed the 2015 Iran nuclear
agreement, and has warned US not to pull out of Iran’s nuclear deal for
security and stability around the world. Russia has also aided Iran’s nuclear
energy program, by providing contributions to the construction of its first
nuclear power plant in the city of Bushehr, where Moscow has announced a new
deal to build next-generation nuclear reactors. Turkey and Russia have been
deeply frustrated with Washington’s approach to the Syrian conflict and in
September, Turkey rejected NATO warnings and finalized a deal to purchase
advanced S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia.

It has been observed that there has also been a
spike in close military encounters between Russia and the west ‘at cold war
levels’. The report, Dangerous Brinkmanship by the European Leadership Network,
provides details of almost 40 specific incidents that have occurred in 2014
from violations of national airspace, emergency scrambles, narrowly avoided
mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea and simulated cruise missile
attacks on North America in the Labrador Sea near Canada as a provocative
action while NATO summit was in session at that time. While the US, Britain and
other NATO allies accuse Russia of ramping up military action and returning to
cold war ways by stepping up incursions, Moscow places the blame on the US and
its European allies, accusing them of provoking the crisis in the Ukraine and
through the imposition of sanctions on Russia. President Putin was quoted as
saying that NATO’s expansion was a “geopolitical game changer” to which Russia
was forced to respond with long-range strategic bomber flights, to counter
similar US activities around Russia’s periphery.

It is interesting to see that there are a number
of parallels that exist between the first Cold War and the one we are in now.

The first Cold War was all about proxy wars like the Korean war and Vietnam war
and we are still continuing to fight them in Ukraine and Syria. Russia’s
invasion of old Soviet countries like Georgia, Ukraine and annexation of
Crimean peninsula to consolidate its power in Europe in the current day is
similar to the cold war Eastern Bloc divide against the NATO’s Western Europe.

The new battle lines are being drawn, with countries like China, Syria, North
Korea, and Iran aligning with Russia. Meanwhile countries like Australia,
Japan, Germany, South Korea, Canada and the UK have aligned with the United
States. Espionage and Military provocation seems to be back in swing. A Swedish
Hunt for ‘Russian’ Sub in October 2014 recalls the Cold War during which time
the Soviet submarines reportedly made numerous incursions into the country’s
territory. In 2010, Moscow and Washington orchestrated the biggest and least
secret spy swap in decades involving a transfer of 10 Russian
“sleepers” arrested in America in return for four alleged double
agents. In 2014, there were several tit-for-tat expulsion of Polish and German
diplomats from Russia and Russian diplomats from Poland for alleged spying,
which is another apparent throwback to the cold war era of furtive espionage. There’s
a new space race. The Americans are signing contracts with American companies
like Boeing and SpaceX to reduce dependency on Russian rockets to get to the
International Space Station. American President has signed the ‘White House
Space Policy Directive 1’ recently, pressing NASA to put humans back on the
moon. Russia similarly wants cosmonauts there by the 2020s. Russia may not have
changed that much since the Soviet days, in terms of disseminating sanitized
propaganda and sophisticated disinformation techniques. It has also raised its
game significantly in employing the new weapons of the information age,
including identity theft, cyber-warfare and computer hacking.

 

In conclusion from my investigations, it definitely seems like the
Cold War is back. In fact, it never really ended. Relations between Russia and
the United States were driven by a complex interplay of ideological, political,
and economic factors. The distinct differences in the political systems of the
two countries prevented them from reaching a mutual understanding on key policy
issues which often ranged from cautious cooperation and often bitter superpower
rivalry and conflicts over the years. It is crucial to glean the history as
well as the current position of the cold war to better understand the state of
US foreign policy, the underlying contributors to conflicts and tensions in
Europe, Middle East and Far East and the potential risks they pose to our
international security and defense as a global citizen of the world.

 

 

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